3 Powerful Habits That Will Increase Your Influence At Work
Influence is the ability to have a positive impact on others which garners buy-in from key people.
I have only ever formally asked someone to be my mentor once in my career, and it was straight out of the gate. As an early-in-career 20-something, I was eager to make my mark on the company, and I saw the potential he had to help me do that.
He was a quirky guy, but he was an executive, so he got away with it.
He had a dry sense of humor, and most people couldn’t decipher when he was serious and when he wasn’t. He was full of useless trivia that he’d pull out when you least expected to learn something new. Most of my colleagues thought he was making it up as he went.
One day he held an impromptu contest where he challenged everyone in our department to guess how many coins were in a massive jar on his desk, and the rest is history.
I won, and he asked me to walk him through my thought process for how I landed on my number. He nodded his head approvingly as I spoke, and I felt like I had earned his respect. We were an unlikely match, but we clicked for some reason, and I asked him to be my mentor.
We’ll call him Derek.
While most of my colleagues viewed Derek as old and out of touch, I could listen to him talk for hours, soaking up bits of wisdom along the way.
The most impactful conversation we had was about the importance of having influence at work and how to use that influence to grow your career which was something I was very motivated to do at the time.
The organizational consulting firm, Korn Ferry, says that influence is “the ability to have a positive impact on others, to persuade or convince them to gain their support. With the Influence competency, you’re persuasive and engaging, and you can build buy-in from key people.”
“You know,” Derek said during one of our conversations, “You don’t always need a new job title to do bigger and better things.” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, aside from the assumption that, as a millennial, he probably thought I was far too impatient for my next promotion.
He wasn’t wrong about that, either.
He leaned over, grabbed a legal pad from off his desk, and carefully selected two pens from his marble pen cup. The silence would have been awkward for most people as he slowly took the cap off of the black pen, but I was used to the dramatics by now. I think he did it for effect.
He drew a black circle in the middle of the page. “This is your job,” he said. “Your job responsibilities are contained within this circle, as is the knowledge you have that qualifies you to do the job.”
I patiently nodded as he re-applied the pen cap and picked up the blue pen next. He started to draw circles along the original black circle’s edge, intersecting with it.
“But there are opportunities every day for you to expand that knowledge, little by little, into areas within human resources that don’t fall into your job description.” He stopped after he had drawn three circles.
“And if you do this consistently, do you see what happens?” he asked finally. I looked at him tentatively, not quite ready to commit to an answer.
“If you do this consistently,” he continued, “you will find yourself suddenly having far more knowledge than the job you’re in today requires of you.” Now I was tracking.
“And when you know more, you can contribute more. And when you can contribute more, you expand your influence power.” He sat back in his leather chair.
“And when you have more influence power, you can affect more change — whether you’ve been given a higher-ranking title than the one you have today or not. But frankly, when you find yourself in that position, it’s pretty easy to make a case for a promotion.”
Here are three habits he taught me that you can also use to increase your influence power at work.
First, say “yes” and then figure it out
I remember working with a colleague who got very easily overwhelmed. When she did, I knew that she’d be looking to offload some of her projects, and I was there happily waiting to take her up on the offer.
Derek taught me always to say “yes” first and then “figure out what the heck you’re doing as you go.” In the beginning, this was uncomfortable for me. I liked being good at what I did, and no one starts out as an expert.
“Just because you’ve never done something yet doesn’t mean you can’t do it ever,” he’d often remind me. And, he was right. Over the years, I’ve learned that you should always take on the challenge that scares you the most.
This Is Why You Should Choose The Job That Scares You The Most
The only question to ask yourself is ‘who do you want to be?’
Because growth only happens along the edge of your comfort zone. When nothing changes, everything stays the same. If you want to influence others and build the kind of buy-in from those around you that will supercharge your career, you have to know more today than you did yesterday.
Always ask for more
Not everyone will have a colleague who’s willing to throw her most challenging projects your way. Sometimes, you’ll have to actively raise your hand and ask for more.
But, Derek taught me to be strategic about what I asked for. The trick is to ask to take on something that will get you closer to where you want to go. For me, that meant taking on projects that would teach me how areas of HR other than recruiting worked. Why?
Because if I wanted to move into leadership — and I assure you that I very much did — I would need to know how learning & development, employee relations, and organizational design worked, among others.
The hard truth is that no one becomes a CHRO if the only thing they know how to do is hire people.
But on top of straight skill, building buy-in from other people is another key element of influence, making your relationships at work paramount.
Ask to take on projects that will increase your visibility to leaders who you don’t normally work with on a day-to-day basis. Those are the people who will go to bat for you when a promotion is on the table.
Solve problems that aren’t yours to solve
Perhaps the most important thing Derek taught me to do was to choose to solve problems even when those problems weren’t mine to solve.
At the time, I was a University Relations Recruiter, which meant that I was responsible for recruiting dozens of recent college grads to join the company.
In their minds, I was the face of the company, the first person they had a relationship with ‘on the inside.’ As such, they came to me often with questions unrelated to recruiting, simply because I was a familiar face.
“Let’s say one of our associates came to you with a question about benefits,” he said. “What would you do?”
The answer seemed pretty obvious to me. “I’d introduce the person to our Benefits Manager and let her answer their questions.”
“No,” he said. Clearly, I wasn’t tracking at this point. “Instead of passing them off, what would happen if you spoke with the Benefits Manager until you learned enough about the plan to answer the question yourself?”
“Then, I suppose I could answer the same question the next time someone asked,” I reasoned.
“Bingo,” he said. “And suddenly, you’ve made yourself much more valuable. Indispensable, even. The more you do that, the more your value to the organization — and your influence — compounds.”
These lessons have served me well over the course of my career. At the time, I was motivated by getting my next promotion, but now I see that these are about so much more than that.
Derek taught me that the people who see every challenge as an opportunity to learn something new are the ones who do just that. And that lesson is more valuable than any promotion could ever be.
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